House, Senate working on separate budget proposals

JACKSON — The Mississippi House and Senate are working on separate budget proposals, and they would both slightly increase the funding for public schools in the coming year.

There are some other differences in the ways the two chambers propose to pay for state government during the fiscal year that begins July 1.

The Senate wants to spend more than the House on paying off the state’s long-term debt, while the House wants to spend more than the Senate on mental health.

The two chambers offer similar proposals to fund Medicaid, the government health insurance program for the needy.

Leaders are scheduled to negotiate final versions of the budget bills by late April. The state-funded portion of the fiscal 2013 budget is expected to be about $5.6 billion, with much more money coming from federal sources.

In unveiling the Senate budget, Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves said he wants to give state agency directors more flexibility to manage their budgets. He supports a proposal to remove civil-service protection from many state government jobs, which would allow managers to eliminate positions to save money.

“There is still a need for cuts in government, and there are still opportunities for cuts in government,” Reeves said.

The House budget includes an extra $48 million to cover a shortfall in the Public Employees Retirement System. Reeves said the Senate budget does not specifically mention payments to PERS, but if agency directors have flexibility to move money around within their budgets, they could choose to close the funding gap.

Some House members tried unsuccessfully to put an extra $29 million into elementary and secondary education, but those efforts failed.

During a House debate on the Department of Health budget, Rep. John Hines, D-Greenville, said Mississippi has too many bad health indicators, with high rates of obesity, teenage pregnancy and AIDS.

“This agency can, should and must do better,” Hines said. “We should not be leading the nation in all these negative issues.”

House Public Health Committee Chairman Sam Mims, R-McComb, responded: “Yes, the Department of Health has a role. But let’s not forget it is not the government’s role to raise our children.”

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